I’m writing this post more than a few hours after the Canucks traded Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer to the Buffalo Sabres; in return, they receive forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.
First, the good.
Zack Kassian is a big player. At 6’4″ and 225 lbs., he’s bigger than every other Canucks forward except for Byron Bitz.
And he hits.
And he fights.
And he has decent hands.
In other words, Kassian’s a young, power forward in the making – a type of player the Canucks don’t have in the organization.
However, with just 7 points in 27 games this season, he’s shown but mere glimpses of fulfilling that promise.
On the other hand, to get Kassian, the Canucks had to give up blue-chip rookie, Cody Hodgson, who already had 16 goals and 33 points in limited ice-time this season.
So why did the Canucks do this trade?
Since their Stanley Cup Finals defeat to the Boston Bruins, the Canucks have faced numerous questions about whether or not they have the requisite size and toughness to undergo another lengthy playoff run. Even after beating the Bruins in Boston in January, they were asked if they could produce the same kind of compete over a playoff series. One win was good, but can they do it again and again and again?
With this trade, Gillis dealt from a position of strength to address a position of need. For all the progress and success that Hodgson has had this season – and don’t get me wrong, he’s had a lot – he’s also a somewhat redundant piece in the Canucks puzzle. Playing on the 3rd line, he faced sheltered minutes, many of which may not be available in the postseason. Gillis is gambling that one of Maxim Lapierre, Sammy Pahlsson, Manny Malhotra, or even, Steven Reinprecht can provide what Cody does, and at the same time, add some size and toughness on the wing.
After acquiring David Booth early in the season, it’s no secret that GM Mike Gillis wanted more balance in the roster.
Consider it mission accomplished.
On paper, the Canucks should be a tougher team to play against. With Kassian, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, Manny Malhotra, Sammy Pahlsson, Dale Weise (plus perhaps Byron Bitz, Steven Reinprecht and Mike Duco later) in the bottom-six, Alain Vigneault has a lot of options to roll out against opposing teams’ top lines (and free up the Sedins and Kesler for the offensive side of things). All are defensively-responsible, all have speed and all are tenacious on the forecheck. Add the offensive potential from Kassian, Raymond, Hansen, and to a lesser extent, Lapierre, and you’ll see why Gillis and company may have tinkered this way.
In one trade, the Canucks addressed a couple of key organizational needs: a power forward and a defenseman with some offensive potential.
Get ready Sabres fans because here comes “Mean” Zack Kassian. In all honesty, he really isn’t that “mean” of a person – only on the ice. I conducted an interview with Kassian last season (click here) and came away impressed with his poise and overall knowledge of the game and its players. Many have labeled Kassian as a boom or bust prospect, but I just don’t see it. If he “booms”, he will be a first or second line scoring threat with a nasty physical edge. If he “busts” he will end up just a gritty 3rd or 4th line winger (which I wouldn’t consider a bust if he is still playing in the NHL). He projects as a player similar to Lucic, Downie, Burrows or Bertuzzi (prime). For Kassian’s size and aggressive tendencies on the ice, he has a very underrated set of hands. With all the makings of a pure power forward, Kassian put up 77 points this season and was a point-per-game player in the playoffs. His biggest assets are his size, strength, energy and his shot, which he recently developed into a more of a lethal weapon. Taken from the interview I conducted with him, one of his major flaws is speed and skating. In order to be able to play in the NHL as early as next season, Kassian will need to spend some serious time with a power skating coach this off-season. Training camp will give Kassian the opportunity to prove whether he is good enough to log serious minutes at the next level of his development. If things don’t go well for him in training camp, he will be able to polish his game at the AHL level with Portland next season.
Also, the underrated aspect of this trade is Marc-Andre Gragnani. Last season, Gragnani was the AHL’s most outstanding defenseman and points leader among defensemen in the regular season (12G-48A-60P in 63 games) and the Sabres’ top scorer in the playoffs (1G-6A-7P in 7 playoff games). In 44 Sabres’ games this season he has 12 points (1G-11A) and leads the team with a plus-10 rating. Along with Chris Tanev, Kevin Connauton and Yann Sauve, the prospect pool on defense suddenly doesn’t look that bad.
As Matt asked earlier, about the only thing funny with this trade is its timing. Why do it now? Everyone wants to add grit for the playoff run, but why do it at the expense of a potential Calder Trophy nominee?
Mike Gillis is gambling here. He’s gambling that the drop-off from Hodgson to Kassian will be more than offset by the acquisitions of Booth and Pahlsson. He’s gambling that Kassian – and potentially, Gragnani – will be part of the next core of Canucks when the Sedins and Salo inevitably slow down. It’s a huge gamble, especially in a year in which the team is again expected to contend for the Stanley Cup. Let’s hope for his sake – and our sanity – that it pays off.